There were many causes of rashes and Maisie had pretty much seen them all.
The last time she had seen these particular rose-coloured clusters of slightly raised rash marks had been down south with the free clinic.
The nurse lowered Worms' T-shirt and unconsciously wiped her hands on her scrubs. She turned to the anxious faces of Finny and Casper and didn't know what to say.
Fortunately, she was saved from any immediate explanation by the arrival of another car.
Onetooth didn't even wait for the car to stop before opening the door and leaping out.
He immediately ran to Finny and the others and all three of the children began an urgent whispered conversation.
Maisie got up and walked to where a young, earnest-looking, woman was making her way towards the group. Maisie cut her off, took her arm and steered her some yards away.
"What's happened? Is Worms alright? Who are you?" The earnest young woman was saying.
Nurse Maisie held a hand up. This and her expression stopped the flow of questions dead.
"First of all. Who are you?"
The orphanage matron drew herself up to her full height, which was about shoulder high against the formidable bulk of nurse Maisie.
"I'm the matron of the New Flagstaff Orphanage. You may call me Miss Clinton, Maisy Clinton."
Maisie's nonplussed expression lasted all of a second.
"Well, you can call me whatever the hell you like, but I'm the head nurse at the Hope Springs clinic."
Whatever Miss Clinton was going to say in response to the nurse's curt introduction was lost when the older woman pulled her further away from the gang of preteens sitting on the pavement,
especially the red-haired girl who was now looking at them suspiciously.
"Listen, Miss Clinton. That little lad over there, Worms. He's sick.
I think very sick, and I'm about to haul him off to Hope and the best little doctor in this or any other sector of this damn shithole province."
Finny watched while Casper and Onetooth tried to get an unresponsive Worms to take a drink of water.
Something was going on, and Finny's sense of responsibility to her sick friend was coming back in spades.
She strained to hear what the grown-ups were saying but, just then, nurse Maisie spotted Finny's interest and pulled Miss Maisy further away. But it looked like they were arguing.
Miss Maisy had her hands on her hips, a clear sign that she wasn't putting up with any nonsense.
But then the argument stopped, and Miss Maisy suddenly turned her head and Finny saw the look of shock on her face.
After that, the two grown-ups stopped arguing and Finny frowned as she recognised definite plotting going on between the two authority figures.
After a few moments, the orphanage's matron rushed back to her car. Finny watched it do a u-turn in the street and roar off the way it had come.
Nurse Maisie, meanwhile, was bearing down on them with an expression that telegraphed she wasn't going to brook any backchat from no kids for what she had in mind.
Huddled together in the back of the car and surrounded by boxes of bandages, bedpans, bottles and other medical paraphernalia not necessarily beginning with 'B',
Finny had a hard time hearing what nurse Maisie was saying on her collar radio.
Mainly this was because the speeding car bounced and rattled its way out of New Flagstaff and towards Hope Springs on roads that hadn't seen any proper maintenance since the world went to hell.
However, Finny's elbows eventually did enough to quiet Casper and Onetooth down so that she could catch some of one side of the conversation.
"...four orphans from the factory... Yes, those four... One of them's sick, very sick. I'm bringing him to the house next to your lab... Yes. That's why I'm bringing them there...
Not sure, but I think it might be..." At that moment, Maisie looked into the driver's mirror and scowled at the three faces watching her intently. She turned back to the microphone.
"Doc? Do you remember that little camp east of Kingman...? Yes, that one... That's it... Well, I think that's what we've got here... Okay, ETA ten minutes."
Dr Troy clicked her radio off and sat staring at the wall for long seconds. Then she slowly lifted her hand to her collar again and made a direct link to the mayor of Hope.
"Mom? Hey... No, fine. You...? Good, good. Listen, Mom, are you alone...
? Okay, Mom? You remember we always had plans to turn that falling down house next to the research lab into something useful...
? Okay, well, Maisie is fetching a bunch of kids in from Flagg, and it looks like one of them might have something serious. Serious enough that we need to quarantine them for a while...
Okay, good... What is it...? It's er... well, we aren't sure yet, but it looks like it might be typhoid... Okay Mom, yeah, me too... Love you."
Matron Maisy Clinton pulled up at the rear of the New Flagstaff Orphanage and hurried inside.
As luck would have it, many of their charges were returning to the building for the four ock-lockers snack,
which also meant that the full quota of staff was available to provide and oversee the meal.
Maisy stopped two such as they were shepherding children to the dining hall if they had clean hands, or to the ablutions if they did not.
"Leave this please." She said, taking the pair aside and waiting for a group of five youngsters to make their way to the stairs.
The five orphans, confused by the fact that the staff weren't standing at the foot of the stairs where they were supposed to be for the 'hand check',
nevertheless lifted their hands and waved them in the direction of where Matron and the two other staff were standing.
Maisy smiled and nodded at them and then made shooing motions to send them on their way. Once there was a break in the passage of kids, she turned back to the two staffers.
"George. Stand by the front door. Nobody is to leave the building, that's children or staff. Nobody leaves. Got it?"
"Yes, Matron." George replied, though not quite sure if he had 'got it' He was about to ask why he had to do this and what about the hand check, but the Matron had already turned to his partner.
"Elsie. Go and lock the back door... Make sure there is nobody in the yard first. Oh and, check the shed."
"Yes, Matron." Elsie made to move to carry out the instruction, but Maisy hadn't finished.
"Thank you. Then I want you to go and check the dump and send any children back here, no excuses." She thought for a moment. "The square too. It can't hurt.
In fact, round up any strays you can find and send them straight here."
Elsie looked apprehensive.
"The older children..."
"Threaten them with grounding. Just make sure they all come home."
"Yes, Matron... Can I ask why we are doing this Ma'am?"
Maisy shook her head.
"I'll explain later. Now, off you go, both of you."
"Yes, ma'am." The two staffers chorused and set off about their respective tasks.
Matron Maisy then headed upstairs to her office, where she sat down at her desk to wait for a phone call from Hope Springs. What would happen next would depend on what she would hear.